Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Village Fails Every Time

Summer has finally arrived (for the moment) in Portland, Oregon, and with it the frenetic pace of sports and activities that must be compressed into a couple short months.  Rain-outs must be rescheduled and played, moms must quickly stock up on sunscreen and electrolyte-replacing beverages.

Last week I had the pleasure of watching a young cousin's baseball team play.  The team is from a beautiful little town in the Willamette Valley--a small community settled by not a few Norwegian immigrants (including my relatives) and comprised of several, large, farming families. Many of these boys, though only 13 or 14, have already been seasoned by a couple summers of hard farm work.

I smile as I recall the joyful abandon with which they played.  I was proud to be related to one of the team members as each boy displayed rapidly-developing skill, but better yet, maintained consistently good attitudes and modeled true sportsmanship.  Their small-town values, parent-taught work ethic and slightly-clumsy, but respectful manners reaffirmed the absolute imperative of parental instruction.

Unfortunately, in other venues--the grocery store, the swimming pool, the park--I routinely see what seems to an epidemic of kids raised by single parents (who need our help and prayers) and Hilary's touted "Village".  I cringe as boys and girls disobey, fuss, whine and demand their own way.  These youngsters seem unable to look an adult in the eye, seem unable to live without a smartphone, and seem to believe they are the center of the universe!

The educators began changing things decades ago:  rote memorization was deemed inappropriate, corporal punishment cruel, and respect for elders outdated. Phonics were replaced with whole language; A through F grading replaced by some nebulous Standards-Based Report Cards.  In sports, every kid on every team was given a medal to hang around their neck, win or lose.  The new goal of education and child-rearing seemed to be sterling self-esteem, rather than hard-won achievement.

These changes might not have been quite so damaging were kids not being raised in families often living far from extended family, often with a single parent trusting the educators to know more than they concerning child development.  Add to all that the extreme compartmentalization by age in everything they do, and we're left with youngsters who seem bored with anyone not their exact age.  Not only bored, we seem to have a generation who are not happy unless everything revolves around and for them.

Contrast that with all of my cousins' upbringing (and my own):  all raised by moms and dads who formed a team and nurtured us with love and boundaries.  We were also part of a large extended family, many of the households within walking distance.  The rules were mostly the same from household to household: unconditional love and yet the expectation of proper and respectful behavior.  We were taught to work hard from the earliest years, to always be polite and respectful of others, to always be grateful, and to take ourselves lightly.

The disparity of ages made us all equally appreciative of same-age cousins or great-grandparents, aunts and uncles or younger siblings. Being at a family gathering meant hours of fun:  great food and fellowship was enhanced by the wonderful stories our elders recounted.  And a fascinating observation:  the day in and day out requirement of effort and respect, of doing our best in everything we did...well, the result was a bunch of kids with healthy self-confidence balanced by humility.  It wasn't all about our "self-esteem" because we were not the center of the universe!

While I'm at it, we were also taught in word and deed to have a servant's heart--that it was more blessed to give than receive.  When I think of how giving my parents, grandparents, great aunts and uncles were, I'm ashamed to do less. Their magnanimous hearts and self-deprecating humor were priceless and shining examples of how to live well:  they taught us good character!  I completely agree with Dennis Prager, "Society's sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem."

Perhaps it's too late to undo the damage of several generations of progressive villagers. But perhaps it's not?  With the increase in charter schools and home-schooled children, maybe we're seeing the stirrings of a parental movement toward time-tested, traditional education and societal values. The stakes are too high to abdicate our children to the village; our society and form of government absolutely require people of character.  If I have learned anything in my lifetime, it's this: solid families raise people of good character...the experimental village, however, fails to raise anything other than unwarranted self-esteem.

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